When one finishes the perusal of the life of William E. Dodge, he feels a thrill of unbounded admiration. A man who would resign his membership in the Union League Club, because it sold wine to its members; who disposed of valuable investments in three different railroads, when a majority of the stockholders voted to run Sunday trains; who, while carrying on a large mercantile business, and managing an extensive stock and real estate business, yet found time to preside at the Chamber of Commerce and serve on numerous committees, and held a directorship in various banking institutions, is surely to be admired.
His religious life was never weakened by his prosperity, and the more money God blessed him with, the more religious societies he became connected with.
William E. Dodge was born in the year 1805, near Hartford, Connecticut. He began at the foot of the ladder, taking down shutters and sweeping out the store in which he was employed. When twenty-one, he went into business in a small way, doing a retail business, which prospered, and at the end of three years Mr. Dodge felt able to support a wife.
In 1834 he was invited to become a partner in the firm with his father-in-law, Mr. Anson Phelps, and a brother-in-law, under the firm-style of Phelps, Dodge and Company. This connection proved a most profitable business venture, and at the end of twenty years Mr. Dodge was accounted a wealthy man. Looking about for investments, his keen perception espied a vast fortune in lumber, and then followed those vast accumulations of timber lands, by buying thousands of acres in West Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Canada.
He also became greatly interested in coal lands, and as he must find a conveyance to bring his coal to market, he was naturally drawn into railroad schemes. His ability and enterprise soon placed him on the board of directors for such roads as the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western, and New Jersey Central, being at one time President of the Houston and Texas.
He helped found several of the most noted Insurance Companies in the country, and was a director until his death, of the Greenwich Saving Bank, City Bank, The American Exchange National Bank, the United States Trust Company, the Bowery Fire Insurance Company, and the Mutual Life Insurance Company. He was President of the Chamber of Commerce, and owned a very large number of saw-mills, besides carrying on the regular business of the firm. What will those people, who would do this or that if they only had time, say to all this work done by one man who then found time to serve on the board of management of religious organizations innumerable?
He was a great temperance advocate, giving thousands of dollars annually toward the support of various societies. There were others who had wealth, and gave possibly as much to the betterment of mankind as did Dodge, but we cannot now recall any man of great wealth who would deny himself as much personally, beside giving, as he did. In fact he seemed to be crowded to death with work, yet he never refused to aid all who were worthy applicants. For years he gave away annually over $200,000, yet it was found at his death, February, 1883, that his wealth amounted to something like $5,000,000, a large share of which was also given to charitable purposes.